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'Jim told his mother his illness was an oul bug he caught abroad'

Writer Una Brankin recalls losing her beloved cousin Jim Turley to the disease

Published 19/01/2016

So sad: Jim Turley, who died in 2004, with his wife Sandy
So sad: Jim Turley, who died in 2004, with his wife Sandy

Pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose and treat successfully, mainly due to its non-specific symptoms and the sudden onset of jaundice at a late stage.

Around 200 in Northern Ireland die from it every year. My cousin Jim Turley was one of those people, back in 2004, when he was 54.

A senior teacher at Magheraberry Prison and a former captain of Portadown Golf Club, Jim survived only three months after his diagnosis. He was never one for running to the doctor and had been putting it off until he couldn't eat.

At six feet four inches tall, charismatic, funny Jim always had a healthy appetite and loved big steaks. Suddenly, he was off his food and seemed weak after an educational research trip abroad. In May 2004, a consultant at Craigavon Hospital confirmed the worst and gave him approximately a year to live.

In shock, initially, Jim went on to plan a trip around his favourite spots in Ireland with his wife Sandy, an accomplished artist. He told his children, Scott and Aislinn, then students, that "everybody breaks down some time". And as he didn't want to upset his widowed mother, Bridie, a retired book-keeper at Craigavon Hospital and former Portadown ladies golf captain, Jim claimed his illness was the result of "an oul bug" he contracted abroad.

Auntie Bridie only discovered the truth when she called to visit him in Bleary, a week before he died, and saw him in bed, struggling for breath.

He died on August 17, with Sandy, Scott, now an engineer, and Aislinn, now an award-winning flautist, at his bedside. He was a very kind person and is much missed. Let's hope that initiatives such as the recently established Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund and Grainne O'Neill's Fight On For Annie campaign can help others avoid the same fate.

Belfast Telegraph

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